Supporting The Supporters

Imagine this: someone close to you- a family member, friend, co-worker-has recently been diagnosed with schizophrenia. What do you do? How do you continue to love them and give them the support that they need? The most important thing that you can do is educate yourself about the disease.

Schizophrenia is a brain disease. It arises from problems with brain connectivity during fetal development. Disruptions in a signaling pathway termed the “Wnt pathway” cause the malformations in brain connectivity. Other risk factors can include infection during pregnancy, genetic dispositions, or even just random chance.

Early brain disturbances lead to cognitive impairments for the rest of an individuals life. Although there are cognitive impairments starting at a young age, symptoms are often not observed until later in life.

Symptoms of Schizophrenia include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Agitated Movements
  • Reduced feelings of pleasure
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Reduced expression of emotions
  • Hearing voices

Many of the symptoms of schizophrenia are also symptoms of other mental health diseases- depression, bipolar disease, anxiety- making it quite hard to diagnose schizophrenia. When schizophrenia is diagnosed, individuals are usually prescribed an anti-psychotic. These medications come with a long list of side effects that make patient compliance quite low.

Often, the burden of taking care of people with schizophrenia falls on the people who are close to the affected individual. In a study done in Ethiopia in 2003, 93.5% of caregivers of a schizophrenic patient reported caring for their individual for 7 or more hours a day. This is equivalent of a full time job. 90% of the caregivers also reported never being able to get their mind off of their individual.

This leads to the question, how can you take care of your loved one, while also taking care of yourself?

  1. Reach out to resources in your community.  It is important that caregivers of those with schizophrenia don’t isolate and continue to take care of themselves so that care of the schizophrenic individual is possible. An online support group or your local chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill are good places to start.
  2. Educate friends and family. Mental illnesses can be hard for other people to understand, but some of the stigma can be erased if others understand what is happening with your loved one.
  3. Take breaks. You need to allow yourself to have a life. Self- care is as important as care for your loved one. To be able to care for others, you must care for yourself.

If you are a supporter, you are already doing your loved one the greatest gift by sticking with them and trying to understand the complicated process of their brain disease. Now, give yourself the greatest gift and practice self care. There is support for the supporter. 

More information on schizophrenia can be found here

For more resources for the supporter